All Things Food with Tom Colicchio

On cooking, advocacy, gardening, and, of course, 'Top Chef'

My guest on this week’s episode of Food with Mark Bittman is the great Tom Colicchio: host of Top Chef; one of the country's — and certainly of New York's — best chefs, especially from an activist's point of view; and an avid gardener and fisherman. We talked about a million different things — his activism, his restaurants, what he’s growing in his garden, his ADHD, his family, and a bunch more — which was really fun.

Some excerpts from my chat with Colicchio and the recipes featured in the episode are below. Please listen, subscribe, and review! And remember to call us on 833-FOODPOD with all your food-related questions.

Thank you, as always. — Mark

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On bridging the gap between cooking and activism:

“There have always been creative people who have been activists: You think of Harry Belafonte, to modern-day Sean Penn, and a bunch of people in between. You don't have to separate the two. People want to know where you stand, even big companies these days. They're being asked, ‘Where do you stand on the Voting Rights Act?’ And they have to actually jump in and take a side. I think consumers are voting with their dollars, and their dollars are going towards companies that care. And so for me, it was always pretty easy. Early on, I was advocating for people who were struggling so they could feed themselves more nutritious foods. Who’s going to fight me on that? Who’s gonna say that's a bad thing?”

On 18 years of Top Chef:

“It is a lot of fun, and it's becoming more fun. I think seasons 3, 4, 5 — not as much fun, but I liken it to summer camp, which I didn't go to, but I understand it's how summer camp works. It's a bunch of people — the production team — that we see when we're shooting. So for the six or seven weeks we're on the shoot, we all hang out; we have a great time. A bunch of us are musicians; we play together; there's a little drinking to be had and it's a blast. I've gotten to really enjoy spending time with both Gail and Padma, but you know… six weeks and you're done. And the next year you go back and you do it again.”

On the evolving road to chefdom:

“Kids coming out of culinary school, for the most part, are not that good. They know a lot about stuff, and food and they can tell you who's doing what, and whatever. The muscle memory of working a line is not there yet. When I came up, I was a line cook — I loved working the line. So you have these kids coming out of school, and they don't have the talent to actually keep up on a line, so you have to hire more of them. They also only want to work with you for eight months to maybe a year, get a name on a resume, and then do a stage in Copenhagen — and all of a sudden they're chefs. It's not like when I came up: It was ten years as a cook, five years as a sous chef, and then you get a chef position. I sound like a boomer, ‘the old days,’ but that's just the way it was.”


Stewed Cherries, Sweet or Savory

Serves 4 to 6
Time: About 30 minutes

Here’s a simple treat: Go sweet and it’s like cherry pie without the crust. Veer savory, and it’s a lovely sauce for chicken or duck or any kind of game bird, pork, lamb, or juicy and rich steak. To make it savory, use stock or wine and add sugar just to taste, especially if you’re using sour cherries; to make it sweet, use wine or water and add as much sugar as you like.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds cherries (preferably sour; thawed frozen are fine), pitted

  • 1 cup water, red wine, or stock (see headnote)

  • Sugar

  • Salt and pepper (for savory)

  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (for sweet; optional), or 1 sprig fresh thyme (for savory; optional)

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice if using sweet cherries, or to taste

  • 1 teaspoon chopped lemon zest (for sweet; optional)

Instructions

1. Put the cherries and liquid in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cherries are very tender, about 20 minutes.

2. Stir in the sugar, salt, pepper, and/or cinnamon if you’re using them; taste and add more seasoning, including the lemon juice and zest if you like. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

From How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised Twentieth Anniversary Edition

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Broiled or Grilled Peaches or Nectarines

Serves 4
Time: 10 minutes

Broiled or grilled fruit teams beautifully with ice cream, sorbet, granita, rice pudding, or custard or next to cake or other drier desserts. Start with fruit that is ripe but still somewhat firm so it will hold together on the grill, the same kinds you would sauté or roast. Use a clean grill (very important!) and lower heat than you would for vegetables. Since most fruits are sugar-laden, they will char fairly quickly, in just a couple minutes in most cases. Give the fruit a good brushing with oil or melted butter before you put it on the grill, or else you’ll be scraping it off.

Ingredients

  • 4 peaches or nectarines

  • 4 teaspoons butter

  • 4 teaspoons honey

  • Pepper (optional)

Instructions

1. Halve the fruit; remove the pits. Fill cavities with about 1 teaspoon each butter and honey.

2. Broil until the edges just begin to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Or omit the fillings and grill, cut side down, until just beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Drizzle with more honey and sprinkle with pepper if you like.

From How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised Twentieth Anniversary Edition

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